James Bond: Blood Stone preview: 20 percent driving, 80 percent combat

With veteran racing game developer Bizarre Creations at the helm of James Bond 007: Blood Stone, you might think there would be a heavy emphasis on driving in the next Bond adventure. Not so -- only about 20 percent of the game is played behind a steering wheel, Activision associate producer Michael O'Donnell told me during a recent preview event for the game. Most of Blood Stone is devoted to cover-based shooting and stealthy takedowns.

"This is the Bond event, if you will, of the year," O'Donnell proclaimed, perhaps as a friendly challenge to his Activision colleagues developing the GoldenEye remake (also due out this year). O'Donnell's words were backed up by the highly polished build of the game on hand at the event. I wasn't permitted to play the first area of the demo -- a jungle infiltration mission where Bond must gain entry to a massive base on the side of a steep cliff -- but I was almost grateful because, damn, there was a lot to just see.
At first, O'Donnell was keen on showing me the stealthier side of Bond and his arsenal of contextual takedown moves. "Melee takedowns were done by Ben Cook, Daniel Craig's stunt double," he shared. "So they're cool 1:1 takedowns." Thanks to the expertly-crafted in-game visage of Craig's Bond, they looked legit.

"The combat system is kinda different. It's contextual and cover-based, so it knows if you're behind high, medium, low -- out in the open. And it kinda allows you to perform these cool takedowns, depending on where you're at." O'Donnell showed me an example of how leaning against a pole produced a different takedown than when crouched next to a barrel. Then he moved into a larger area just outside of the base, filled with patrolling guards and showed me the Smart Phone device, Bond's be-all gadget that helps him survey the environment.

"When I use the Smart Phone, it puts an overlay on that allows you to see enemies, where they are, the type of weapon they have and their alert state. It shows interactive objects in the environment -- objectives, intel; it's kind of like our all-in-one electronic device," O'Donnell explained. "So now I can see this guy has seen me, these guys haven't." It was a quick tactical and applicable assessment of the situation and looked pretty damn useful. After popping out of his hiding place, O'Donnell engaged the enemies and moved on, climbing up a massive crane and eventually making his way into the base.

From there it was just a few more encounters until I was able to get my hands on the game. I played a driving segment in Siberia where Bond's goal is to pursue a train. Here, it felt like classic Bizarre all the way: My Audi handled with just the right amount of balance between arcade and simulation physics. I could slide, but I wasn't drifting out of control, despite the fact that I was driving over a massive frozen lake.

As I bobbed and weaved under bridges and through tight spots, avoiding parts of the ice that had thawed below me, I eventually caught up close enough to the train to initiate a battle with a helicopter. It had missiles, I clearly did not. My only recourse was to dodge the missiles, until I eventually initiated a big jump sequence, parking my car into the roof of one of the train cars.

"I think this game is for people who want the story-based James Bond experience," O'Donnell said. In these two gameplay segments, Bizarre's objective was clear. James Bond 007: Blood Stone is all about the spectacle -- one impossible thrill to the next. "This year, there's no movie and this is a completely original story. It's very cinematic and some of the things they've done, some of the over-the-top sequences and the third-person fashion, will show that."

In the stages I previewed, Bizarre and Activision have succeeded. I was watching and playing a blockbuster summer movie. The only thing missing was a tub of popcorn and a torn-off ticket stub.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.